The Twelve Most Important Reads for Life: MBA Edition

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Full disclosure: This list ignores many important parts of an MBA education, including accounting, statistics, and Excel spreadsheets. Instead, it offers a strong sampling of the ideas, inspiration, and core concepts taught at top business schools.

Understanding Elite Education:

1) Lauren Rivera, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, is an expert on hiring and promotion practices in elite professional service firms. Her award-winning book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs investigates hiring decisions for top-tier investment banks and consulting firms.

2) According to William Deresiewicz, a Yale professor, about half of Ivy League graduates end up working in finance or consulting. Excellent Sheep is the story of these “polite, praise-addicted, grade-grubbing nonentities,” who often become MBAs.

Innovation & Networks:

3) Zero to One is actually a byproduct of a startup course at Stanford. It’s an excellent introduction to innovation, but don’t take my word for it: “When a risk taker writes a book, read it. In the case of Peter Thiel, read it twice. Or, to be safe, three times. This is a classic.” - Nassim Taleb

4) Another Stanford scholar, Niall Ferguson, recently released The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. The Wall Street Journal called it “a brilliant book…In 400 pages you will have restocked your mind. Do it."

Economics (Popular & Managerial):

5) MBAs are practical types, and John Tamny’s Popular Economics is an everyman’s guide to how money really works. It is wise, insightful, and eminently readable. Most importantly, it makes economics approachable.

6) With Managerial Economics, you’ll learn how to apply economic theory to even the most formidable business challenges. Written by business professors at Vanderbilt, this textbook offers a succinct, fast-paced approach designed specifically for MBAs.

Finance & Strategy:

7) No MBA reading list would be complete without a Harvard Business School professor. For those interested in Finance, Mihir Desai’s The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return is a must-read. According to Oliver Hart, the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Economics, “Students of finance will learn literature, students of literature will learn finance, and everybody will learn something."

8) In search of strategic insight? Lawrence Freedman's 750-page, Strategy: A History, is magisterial, with “wide-ranging erudition and densely packed argument,” according to The Economist.

Human Resourcefulness:

9) For a more personal approach to developing your “Human Resources,” turn to Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. And be sure to pay particular attention to his chapter on creating a real-world MBA.


10) Philip Delves Broughton, a Harvard MBA himself, brings marketing to life in The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters about the Business of Life. Simply put, this outstanding book reveals the complex alchemy of effective selling in an entertaining way.


11) The military is a breeding ground for leadership in general, and MBAs in particular. Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL, is a force to be reckoned with, and his book Extreme Ownership is an outstanding motivator.

12) The New Republic dismissed Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers as quasi-intellectual: “A little Plutarch and Tolstoy to balance out Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In.” Ironically, this is actually a strong signal to read it. Or at least let it adorn your corporate suite.

Quinn Connelly is a 2018 MBA candidate at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.  

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